The latest figures for the super-tape market has revealed an alarming truth - the LTO format has all but taken over, raising serious doubts over competing formats' future.

According to Gartner, in 2004 LTO had 77 percent of the super-tape market with more than 350,000 drives sold. In a total market of 454,500 drives, that means all other formats account for just 104,500 drives. LTO's share has leapt from 35 percent in 2003.

Not only is LTO taking off - putting the competing SDLT and SAIT formats under doubt - but the market itself is shrinking. The 2004 market is five percent down on 2003. Growing popularity of disk-to-disk backup and the increasing capacity of tape cartridges means fewer cartridges, and therefore drives, are needed.

In the same time period, SDLT sales have dropped at least 15 percent. However with LTO getting close to a monopoly with its 77 percent market share, there are fears at the lack of competition if SDLT and SAIT are discontinued.

The three companies inside the LTO consortium - Certance; HP; and IBM - provide some internal competition and there is also competition between licensed media suppliers, so currently tape drive buyers are not facing a Microsoft-like dominance.

As for the history of super-tape formats, Quantum's DLT was the mid-range tape market leader. Then the LTO Consortium (HP, IBM, and Seagate) introduced LTO as a new mid-range or super tape format. Quantum then introduced its own super tape format - SDLT. Sony also introduced an upgraded AIT called SAIT. Since then LTO sales have steadily taken over.

During this time Seagate divested itself of its tape arm, which became Certance, in 2000. It inherited Seagate's LTO consortium membership. Recently Quantum bought Certance, having recognised the inevitable we suspect. So it is now, instead of fiercely competing with LTO, an LTO consortium member.

Sony has recently added SAIT to its Petasite libraries, used in the broadcasting arena, perhaps recognising that SAIT is destined to be a niche product.

With SDLT and SAIT possibly on the way out, users could start thinking that a move to LTO, now with a long-term roadmap could be a smart move. LTO has write once, read many (WORM) capability and that should increase its appeal when archiving data for compliance purposes.